We’re walking and talking as we head for Seaport Village. We pass by Bonnie Eisner — she’s sitting at her craft table under a Hawaiian Flame Tree just south of the Midway, making bangles of wire and faux precious stones to sell.
“I’ve been coming here since November,” she says. “I enjoy it. I make everything right here. And I give directions a lot.”
She says that just about everybody is a tourist. Not too many locals.
If there’s a problem, it’s that most waterfront places close early. “Summer nights, people come by, asking where they can eat, and I have to tell them that even the Fish Market sometimes closes early. The Upstart Crow at Seaport Village stays open later. Sometimes, they have readings or music there. But who can find them? They’re kind of tucked away.”
“I rest my case,” Moren says. “Why can’t people live, or at least stay here, where the beautiful interface is?”
One problem: those state laws prohibiting private dwellings on Port land.
Moren believes it’s time to change those laws.
“It’s been a difficult situation to handle,” he says. “We’ve got a bunch of archaic laws on the books. But I’m thinking that there’s no reason that the state or the City of San Diego couldn’t build down here and become involved in property management, with actual ownership of these units. It might help the city become financially feasible again, through the ownership and renting of these properties. If California [officials] were to open their eyes, they might realize that they have a gold mine here. It would work because real people will be living here, while the tourists would still be staying here because, instead of having separate hotel towers, hotel rooms would be built right into rental structures. So, that’s the fun part of it: this becomes like East Village by the Bay, part of the lived-in city.”
A Waterfront Mosque?
One thing about the waterfront: there’s no shortage of enthusiasts with great ideas about what to do with it.
At the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in East Village, at least eight graduates this year did their theses on waterfront-related projects.
“We’re one of the rare cities that has a clean plate, right in front of the waterfront,” said one of the graduates, Brandon Linsday, on the night their projects were presented. His thesis “created” a new headquarters for SANDAG (the San Diego Association of Governments, the planning arm of all cities in the county) down at the waterfront. Inherent in the idea: a walkway connecting his new building to the Embarcadero. “We have every opportunity to make this one of the best waterfronts in the United States. How many cities get that much free space to create it?
“I’ve been to community meetings about the waterfront. My exact thought is: let’s make something happen. Our third-largest source of revenue is tourism. Yet all the tourists go to a waterfront that isn’t developed. That wall of hotels and convention centers? We [San Diegans] know that’s like a ‘tourist-only’ zone. We don’t often go there.”
Shawn Lynch’s thesis project was a redevelopment of the B Street Pier, to which the Maritime Museum could transfer its headquarters and its main ship, the Star of India. In the model, the proposed museum headquarters looks like a big ol’ Wyoming barn. Or a dockside warehouse.
“There is disconnection between the city and the bay,” he told people admiring his model at the graduation party. “B Street Pier is poorly maintained and under-utilized. But this pier could become a place of community gathering.”
Lynch wants to create a park on the pier, run a kind of canal through the middle, and also to make a space for the San Diego Symphony’s Summer Pops concerts.
The idea for the project “started in the summer of 2011,” he says. “I went on a trip to Scandinavia. Oslo, Stockholm, waterfront places like that. What I brought back was how Europe is revitalizing their waterfronts. Their industrial ports are pedestrian paradises. I returned to San Diego and realized that we barely use our waterfront. We need something to bring the public down to the water. We need a focal point.”
He thought about the Broadway Pier, but the cruise-ship terminal was already going up (blocking, incidentally, the view corridor down Broadway to the bay in a way that should horrify feng shui aficionados).
“Then I started looking at the B Street Pier,” Lynch says, even though the Port needs half of it for cruise ships when the Broadway Pier is being used. “I want it to become a community space, with parks and water and music and events going on. I put space for the symphony to play at the end of the pier, in a public park, with a lot of green, and I put the Maritime Museum there, with space for the Star of India.”
Partly to help security when the northern side was being used for cruise ships, Lynch sliced his canal diagonally through the middle of the pier, with drawbridges that could be raised to unjoin the cruise terminal side, but also to frame the Star of India and other museum ships moored in the “canal.” He included a pitched roof on the museum to accommodate tall masts and to give it a “maritime shed” look. He also included walkable ramps so people could walk or jog over the water.
“I want to seduce people down there,” he says, “locals, make it part of their lives.”
Loay Alkhifi wants to build a mosque and Muslim interpretive center in front of the convention center. “This will help bring life to San Diego’s waterfront,” he said. “The purpose is to increase awareness about Islam, about my country Saudi Arabia as a Muslim country.”
He shows me a model of the long, low building with a minaret at one end.
“It’s an interpretive, cultural center for non-Muslims — it’s not primarily for Muslims. And the way I thought about it, as a project being on the waterfront, is to find what is good on the site and make more of it. The good things are the promenade, the Embarcadero park, the public spaces.”